Reflection December 18, 2016
Humor and Humility
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday (December 11), I mentioned there are two human traits which God finds very attractive: humility and humor. I believe humility and humor are closely related to each other. If we combine these two qualities into a gentle self-deprecating humor, I believe we become divinely irresistible.
Perhaps the greatest joy that came my way in life with my beloved Beth was when I would cause her to laugh. We both shared a dark sense of humor - so I would at times point out the inherent absurdities in something happening around us.
There was no better sound in the world to me than the sound of Beth laughing at something I said. Often my humor had an edge of self-deprecation in it - which is where humility and humor join together.
When did our world become so deadly serious? When did we stop laughing at ourselves? Do we imagine that God has no sense of humor?
Why is it when we approach religion, we assume a dour/sour appearance? Do we suspect that God will castigate us for a cheerful countenance? Did Jesus never laugh?
A person without humor will find it nearly impossible to truly love. Love demands a vulnerability which reveals itself in the lightness of laughter. I’m drawn to honest humor which doesn’t target the weak or the vulnerable. It is a serious and perhaps sinful defect when one cannot laugh at oneself.
Those who seldom smile have a very serious imbalance, looking at the world through leaden eyes. Human nature withers without the healing touch of humor. Without laughter, the human soul resembles the Sahara desert. Any true intimacy requires the life-giving rain of laughter.
What unsettles me in our current religious (and political) discussions is the lack of humor evidenced. Both ends of the religious (and political) perspective lack the humor that could lead to true dialogue and the cooperation necessary for any human progress.
Those on the rigid extreme right seem to find smiling somehow sinful. Those on the perpetually-annoyed radical left dismiss self-deprecating laughter as a weakness. No wonder we see so much gridlock in our religious (and political) domains.
I believe God wants us to smile our way to salvation. Salvation is about opening ourselves to the all-embracing love and life of God. When we actually experience God’s love, all our soul can do is laugh at the incredulity of it all. Who can believe it? I surely cannot! Yet there it is - a Love so wild and wide - so consuming and compassionate - so humbling and healing! This is what Christmas is all about! Leave Santa snow-bound at the north pole!
The Holy Spirit poured upon us (read Romans 5:5) is the Spirit of Life and this Spirit reveals itself in how we live - in our vitality. If we live our lives without vitality, then we can be assured we live Spirit-less. I believe this Spirit-driven vitality most clearly manifests itself in both love and laughter. Love are laughter are wedded/ welded together.
I admit I find it very difficult these days to laugh. I miss my beloved Beth so much that I often don’t know how to keep moving forward. As we all know, holidays are the times when we feel such losses most deeply. I find it almost impossible to do any Christmas shopping because I keep seeing things that I want to buy for Beth. I have had to flee in tears from stores where we used to do our Christmas shopping.
In the eulogy I gave at Beth’s memorial, I jokingly mentioned that while I wasn’t sure how I would go on - alcohol and drugs would probably be involved. I also noted that I was kidding!
After the memorial, my nephew John came up to me and - with our shared sense of dark humor (the Irish seem to have this in their genes!) John said: “Uncle Tom, I’ve found that a combination of alcohol and drugs works better than either one alone!” Dark humor, to be sure, but it made me laugh!
I mentioned this story during Sunday’s sermon. Afterwards, in our fellowship, a member of the church came up to me and said he was willing to join me in pursuing alcohol and drugs if I needed a companion! I laughed at that - and deeply appreciated the comment!
Like is too serious to be taken too seriously! As a plaque in our house (I will never think of where my beloved Beth and I lived as MY house --- it will always be OUR house!) says (in the Irish language): “A light heart lives long!” I’m not sure this is true but I do know that life without the gift and grace of laughter seems too long!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643